Your climbing or abseiling rope is one of your few pieces of gear that is non-redundant. There is no backup. Therefore it is important to pay it special attention both in how you care for it and how you monitor it for wear so you can get the most life out of it and know when it is time to move it on. Different styles of climbing will put different stresses on ropes so it is impossible to give them a lifespan. High level sport climbing can put incredible stresses on a rope and it may only last a fraction of the time that a glacier travel rope will last for instance. But with a little TLC you will be able to get the maximum potential out of your rope.
Perhaps one of the most important care instructions comes when you first take it out of the packaging. If you don’t uncoil your rope in the right way you’ll likely have twists in it for its whole life! DO NOT chuck the rope on the ground, grab one end and start pulling like you would a flaked rope. When ropes are packaged in the factory they are not flaked, they are spooled (think the spool on a fishing rod winding in the fishing line). So for a brand new rope you have to reverse this process. All ropes will come with instructions and some methods may vary depending on how they were coiled however there is a general way. Get a friend – they will act as the fishing rod/spool. You will be the fish pulling it out. Get your buddy to put their forearms through the centre of the spooled rope and hold them tort and apart so the rope stays in the same shape that it comes packaged; a squashed oval. Locate the end of the rope (preferably on the outside of the spool) and start pulling it out flaking it on the ground as you go. Your friend should rotate their arms as you reverse the spooling process until the rope is completely flaked on the ground. Once you’ve done this it is a good idea to flake the rope from end to end a few times or run it through a quickdraw strung up somewhere to get rid of any twists. Once you weight or fall on a rope, twists are much harder to get out so do your best to get them out before you use it.
Keep it clean
Dirt and dust through your rope not only wears the rope fibres faster as it abrades them when the stretch and contract, but it also wears your hardware faster as it can act like sandpaper running through your karabiners. Always use a rope bag or ground sheet to keep it out of the dirt. Even a cheap tarp from Bunnings will do however a rope bag neatly packages your rope to take up less space in your bag or be a bag on its own. They also have tie-in points on the tarp so the rope doesn’t get knotted while being packed away.
It’s a good, if not great idea to wash your rope. Generally you can tell when it needs to be done when get dirty hands from belaying. As mentioned above, dirty ropes not only wear themselves out quicker but also your karabiners and hardware. Only use ROPE WASH as standard detergents will leave residue which is not good for the ropes. Rope wash is usually pretty cheap and only a few dollars. You can wash it by hand or machine however a front loader is best. It can be done in a top loader but the rope can be a pain to get out as it gets caught around the agitator. It’s best to tie your rope up end to end with figure ‘8’s or ‘daisy’ the rope to avoid it knotting in the machine. Leave it in the shade to dry and don’t use it until completely dry.
There comes a time in every ropes life when it starts to wear out. Don’t be too worried about a fluffy rope; this in itself is not a bad thing however there are some things to look out for.
- Flat Rope – If your rope appears to be going flat at one spot it could mean the core is getting damaged. To test if it is really bad, fold the rope over and try to pinch it between your thumb and pointer finger as if folding a piece of paper. If the rope folds completely on itself like paper than that means the core is damaged in that section. A rope should never be able to fold completely on itself without a small gap.
- Core Shot – This is an easy one as it is visual. If you can see any part of the white core strands than that section of the rope is kaput.
Caring for a damaged rope
Just because a rope may show signs of the above damage does not mean you should throw it away. Most of the time it can be salvaged simply by cutting that section off. 9 times out of 10 the wear happens in the last couple of meters of the rope as that is the part that sees the most action. Get a sturdy knife with a plastic or wood handle, heat it until very hot over a flame, then use it to ‘hot knife’ through the rope to cut the worn section off and Bob’s your uncle. Just remember that your rope now will be a little shorter than before so be careful lowering people off long routes.
Unfortunately sometimes damage can happen towards the centre of the rope and this is a bummer. If enough of the rope can be salvaged you can retire it as a gym rope, if it’s right in the middle or throughout the rope cut it up and use the shorter good sections to replace anchors or old tat on multipitch climbs or canyons.
Age of Ropes
Ropes get old. Unlike metal harwear, nylon products have a lifesan and even an old, unused rope can become weak and unsafe. Most manufacturers will give a life of about 10 years on their ropes even with no visable signs of wear. If this is your rope - shame on you for not climbing more often! Get out there and send some sweet lines!
And as always, if you have any other questions or need clarification, just send us an email or give us a call at 02 9264 5888.